Western politicians often have an uneasy relationship with wealth; it seems unnatural for a democratic leader to have a vast fortune sitting in their bank account as they make decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of the electorate. However, this doesn’t stop some business magnates from trying their hand at running a city, state, or even a country. And of course, wealth is almost expected in the various sheiks, sultans and kings for whom the ruling of a country runs in the family.
Which nations boast the richest politicians in the world? Below we’ve numbered the 10 Wealthiest Politicians in the world today, some of whom have built their wealth by legitimate means, but some whose many, many billions of dollars seem to representing a worryingly large share of their country’s wealth. We’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about these powerful billionaire politicians.
10. Sonia Gandhi: $2bn
This 67 year-old politician is by all accounts extremely wealthy and extremely powerful: She currently ranks at No. 9 on Forbes’ list of powerful women, and her $2bn makes her wealthier than both the Queen of England and the Prince of Monaco. Her estimated net worth (like all of the figures on this list) was calculated from publicly available figures such as salary and real estate holdings.
Sonia Gandhi (a distant relative of the famous leader) became the President of India’s National Congress in 1998, making her the longest running leader in the last 125 years. Gandhi’s involvement in India’s political scene predates her direct institutional involvement, as she is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister who was assassinated in 1991.
9. Silvio Berlusconi: $6.2bn
Berlusconi has had a rough few years. He was forced to resign as Italy’s Prime Minister in 2011, was expelled from the Senate in 2013, has been recently divorced by his wife, and was found guilty of tax fraud and sex with a minor.
Despite this, the 77 year-old seems to be in good financial shape; he maintains major stakes in the commercial broadcaster Mediaset, Mediolanum bank, and the football club AC Milan. He has also reportedly married his new girlfriend, the former TV showgirl, 28 year old Francesca Pascale.
8. Savitri Jindal: $7.6bn
Almost all of Savitri Jindal‘s money comes from the steel business, which is problematic as the prices in shares in Jindal Steel & Power have been sliding for the last half decade. As a result, since 2011 her fortune has decreased by just under $10bn. In 2012 Jindal was rated as the world’s 80th Richest Person, and India’s 4th, and is also the billionaire mother with the most children (9), many of whom now run different sections of the family’s sprawling empire.
Jindal was appointed as a minister for urban local bodies in 2013 by the government of Haryana state where she resides. Her appointment was seen by many as a move ‘to please the trading community and increase number of female ministers in the state cabinet.’
7. Serge Dassault: $11.5bn
In mid-February 2014 the French gendarmes detained the billionaire industrialist and senator Serge Dassault. The 88 year-old has been accused of buying votes in an area of east Paris where he used to be mayor. It is likely that his activities influenced the outcome of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 elections in the area. Large sums of money had been moved back and forth between France and Lebanon, of which around €3m may have been used to purchase votes from poorer immigrant families.
This isn’t the first time the media and aviation tycoon has gotten in trouble for his questionable methods; in 1998 he was given a two year suspended sentence for bribing government members to acquire a military contract. He has been attacked critics in the French press who have (perhaps cruelly) compared his appearance to that of the Sith Lord from the Star Wars franchise…
6. Zong Qinghou: $11.6bn
By most counts Zong Qinghou would seem to be the perfect, aspirational example of what can happen to a hard working member of the People’s Republic of China: He had little education, and worked in a salt mine after leaving school. He slowly worked his way up career ladder, eventually building his own beverage distribution company which made him China’s richest man in 2012.
However, as is often the case in modern China, his rise has been marred by accusations of corruption and tax evasion. Zong’s successes have been seen as a result of his wolfish work ethic which was recently demonstrated when he returned to work just two days after having been stabbed by a man to whom he refused to offer a job.
5. Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan: $15bn
Sheikh Khalifa, the current president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi is part of the Al Nahyan family whose fortune is estimated to exceed $150bn. Despite his role in the modernisation and – to an extent – Westernisation of the Arab Emirates, the US government isn’t particularly fond of the leader who was described in one of the leaked cables from the Wikileaks hoard as a ‘distant and uncharismatic personage’.
Since he ascended to the throne following his father’s death in 2004 he has generally been seen as a positive influence in the region; he increased the wages of government employees by 100%, and has introduced an element of democracy into the election process of the Federal National Council. During his rule the UAE saw the construction of the Burj Dubai in 2010, the world’s tallest structure.
4. Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz: $18bn
Abdullah is the sixth King of Saudi Arabia, meaning that he controls almost a fifth of the world’s oil supply. The 89 year-old ascended to the throne in 2005 following a life of politics which started with the mayoral position of the holy city of Mecca at the beginning of the sixties.
Abdullah managed to successfully steer his kingdom through the global recession, and the country is projecting a 4% growth for this year. The king has tried to protect the 50% of the population who fall under 25 by setting aside $130bn over the last few years for use in unemployment funds and housing projects.
3. Hassanal Bolkiah: $20bn
The tiny sovereign state of Brunei (officially known as The Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace) sits on the island of Borneo, in the South China Seas. According to Forbes it is the fifth richest country in the world as a result of its huge petroleum and natural gas supplies. It is, in fact, one of only two countries in the world with public debt at 0% of its GDP.
Hassanal Bolkiah (whose full name is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien) is the current Sultan and Prime Minister of Brunei, and has acquired a personal fortune of over $20bn since his ascension to the throne in 1967. Educated at Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK, the 67 year-old was knighted by the Queen of England (Brunei was a protectorate of Britain until the mid-80s.) The Sultan has been running the country with full emergency power since the beginning of his reign, and in 2006 announced that the country’s constitution had been amended to make him infallible.
2. Michael Bloomberg: $31bn
Mikebloomberg.com (which keeps the public up to date on the activities, news, and thoughts of the 72 year-old) proclaims that ‘Michael R. Bloomberg is the 108th Mayor of New York City, Philanthropist, and independent leader on national issues.’ He started off on Wall Street in the 70s, working for Salmond Brothers, but was laid off (with a $10m severance package) in ’81 when the investment bank was bought. From there he formed his own company which would eventually become Bloomberg L.P, which now supplies the bulk of the financial world’s business information terminals.
In 2013 Forbes listed him as the 13th richest person alive after a meteoric rise from number 142, to 17 in just two years. In 2001 Bloomberg decided to try his hand as New York’s mayor, running as a Republican (despite a life-long membership to the Democratic Party) just after the 9/11 attacks. He decided to use his own money in the election campaign, thereby avoiding the usual restrictions, and ended up spending $73m (five times the amount spent by his opponent). Though Bloomberg claimed to ride the subway to work every day, The New York Times asserted that he was often seen being chauffeured by two NYPD-owned SUVs to an express train station to avoid having to change from the local to the express trains.
1. Vladimir Putin: $75bn
In 1999 Putin first became Prime Minister, but switched to President in 2000, a position in which he remained until 2008, at which point he resumed the title of Prime Minister. His career path is shady enough to make even the most ruthless dictators blush, with a KGB background, domestic suppression, and a recent annexation of part of the Ukraine.
However – despite his enormous personal wealth, authoritarian tactics, homophobic policies and questionable topless publicity shots – it’s important to take the Western media’s portrayal of Putin as an unstable, possibly insane political figure with a pinch of salt. To his credit, during his rule the average Russian income has increased 2.5 fold, and the country’s economy has been growing for eight straight years.